As suppliers of process improvement equipment, we’re often faced with a conversation that centers on, “Why do we need it? We’re operating fine without it.”
For many other equipment suppliers, this is not an issue. Much of the time those conversations are centered on, “Why should I pick you?” We are fortunate enough, (or unfortunate enough), to have to engage in both conversations regularly.
From our perspective, the issue of “Why do we need it?,” is harder. As we were discussing how to best approach these conversations, I thought of a chart I saw that described types of people and how quickly they adapt to new technology. After a little research, (the internet makes it easy), I found a diagram and found out that this thing actually has a name. It is called The Technology Adoption Life Cycle.
One may argue with the percentages assigned to each group but the theory is simple. Different people, (and I would also make the case for companies), adopt new technology at different rates. Having reviewed the chart again, the percentages seem to hold pretty true with the companies that we deal with. What I wanted to look at in this blog is what causes us as individuals or companies to fall into one of these categories, what are the consequences of being either a Late Majority or Laggard company and what can you do to avoid the consequences of being either a Late Majority or Laggard company.
A Message to you Laggards
What causes companies to consistently fall into one of these categories? It appears to involve a combination of one or more of the following organizational characteristics:
- Aversion to risk: Each of us, whether through nature, nurture, or some combination of the two, is able to withstand a varying degree of risk. Each of has seen it from childhood through adulthood. Some people are comfortable skydiving and others may get nervous driving on the expressway. We all fall on some spectrum of risk aversion. The same holds true for corporate cultures.
- Financial resources: You’ve heard the old phrase, “the rich get richer.” Financial resources factor into a company’s ability to take the risks associated with being an innovator or early adopter. Many new technologies prove unsuccessful. Having the financial resources available to absorb those failures is a factor when assessing risk. If you don’t have the money to handle a loss, you’re less likely to take the risk.
- Pressure: Innovators and early adopters, with their risk comfort and access to money, wind up in front of competitors when it comes to using new technical innovations. Quality and productivity improvements resulting from the new technology forces competitors to either adapt or go away. This pressure often drives the late majority to adapt and sometimes even the laggards.
Here is a brief summary of negative consequences and benefits companies experience as result of existing in one of these categories. Each deals with a balance between risk and competitive advantage.
Innovators: The obvious benefit is that as the first to adapt new technology, they are capable of maintaining a competitive edge. The obvious negative is that they are frequently spending a lot of time, effort, energy, and money on technology that doesn’t pan out.
Early Adaptors: Similar to innovators but without the extremes. Not as far as ahead as an innovator but not as many resources wasted on unproven technology.
Early Majority: Ahead of many and behind a few competitively but accepting very little risk as technology has generally been pretty well vetted. Not a bad place to be for those there companies that are somewhat risk averse.
Late Majority: Late to new technology can put the Late Majority in a difficult competitive position. On the flipside, they never have to worry about the costs associated with implementing unproven technology.
Laggards: This group seems perpetually behind. It has always been surprising to me how many of these companies still exist. Systems, technology, furniture, people, everything seems like it was transported from 30 years ago. This low cost structure can be appealing in some circumstances but often, these are the first companies to go away.
Approximately half of the people reading this will fall into the Late Majority or Laggard category. (Well probably less than half because laggards still think cell phones and the internet are just fads and are incapable of reading this). For the other half of us, (Innovators, Early Adaptors, and Early Majority), falling behind competitively is too scary. If you are concerned that your organization is either a Late Majority or a Laggard, here are three simple steps you can take to not get left behind as your world changes:
- Read at least one trade publication every month
- Attend at least one trade show each year
- Investigate at least one new technology each year
The first two are self-explanatory and designed to help you uncover some potential improvement ideas. Once you find something that may have potential, investigation should include:
- Research: get a better handle on the expected costs and benefits and make sure that it fits with your company’s culture and objectives.
- Contact: actually contact a supplier or end user of the technology that has earned your interest.
- Understand: get a team understanding of the requirements for implementing, (including time, effort, energy, and money).
- Monetize: the project shouldn’t go anywhere without financial justification.
Culture change is difficult. Moving an organization to Innovator from Laggard or Late Majority probably isn’t going to happen. However, by following a few simple steps, you may be able to avoid the inevitable loss of market share as you lose competitive ground waiting to get on board for the next shift in technology. Even if you decide not to go forward on a technology you have investigated, you will be changing the rhythm of the organization and perhaps the outlook.
Part of accepting innovation is knowing where changes are going to be most effective in your process. Get your free ROI calculator to analyze where your system is performing efficiently and where it is falling short.